The sole independent Russian election-monitoring organization, Golos, has been subjected to a media smear campaign and was forced to leave its main Moscow office on Feb. 15 in what is undoubtedly an attempt by Kremlin officials to disrupt its work before the election. Meanwhile, the Central Election Commission chairman, Vladimir Churov, who sanctified the fraudulent December elections, remains in place and is presumably ready to deliver whatever is needed when Putin comes calling on March 4.
Independent media has also been suppressed. Following a direct verbal attack by Putin in January, Ekho Moskvy, the Moscow-based radio station known for its hard-hitting journalism and commentary, finds itself under increasing pressure. The station's state-owned controlling shareholder, Gazprom Media, moved on Feb. 14 to dissolve Ekho Moskvy's board of directors in what could be the first step in circumscribing the outlet's coverage of the election. Then, on Feb. 16, Russian prosecutors opened an investigation into the independent online television station, Dozhd TV, for its coverage of two major opposition rallies in Moscow late last year.
Meanwhile, state-dominated broadcast television, whose news and information reaches the largest segment of the Russian public, has held true to form. In the last several weeks, slavish, glowing coverage of Putin has been combined with attacks vilifying newly arrived U.S. Ambassador Michael McFaul and independently minded Russian civil society. Anti-Americanism on state television news is reaching a fevered pitch. And on Monday, state television reported an assassination plot against Putin "uncovered" in Ukraine -- news greeted with considerable skepticism among observers who suspect a last-minute effort to drum up sympathy for Putin.
It isn't as though the authorities are entirely ignoring the reform issue. Putin, for his part, recently authored a number of high-profile articles touting the importance of reform. One of these, a front-page item published on Feb. 6 by the Russian daily Kommersant and titled "Democracy and the Quality of Governance," used the word "democracy" more than 20 times and cited the pressing need for changes, including improvements to the country's judiciary, its environment for civil society, and its efforts to combat runaway corruption.
But such words from Putin ring hollow after his 12 years of hobbling democratic institutions. Freedom House findings chronicle a grim record of across-the-board decline during the Putin era, including in the areas of judicial independence, media freedom, anticorruption, and the election process.
Despite growing calls for a more open, consensual form of governance, Putin and the Kremlin are charging forward to secure another presidential term without any real plans for engaging disaffected citizens or implementing the reforms they seek. As one Russian analyst, Vladimir Frolov, recently observed, "Putin was built for one-way conversations."